08 March 2010

Your Growler is Illegal in Baltimore City!

So, in the wake of the latest PLCB nonsense up in Philadelphia, we have late-breaking action on another query in Baltimore, prompted by a call from a Washington Post reporter:  Is your growler illegal?

Technically, yes.  Still.

In spite of brewpub regulations in Maryland that require a brewpub to sell any "beer to go" in a resealable growler, a careful review of the Baltimore City liquor regulations reveals this fascinating bit of legal arcanum, according to Baltimore Liquor Board chairman Steve Fogleman:  It is illegal for an alcohol serving establishment in Baltimore City to reuse or refill any alcohol container [his emphasis].  Fogleman pledged to get back to me with "chapter and verse" of all the relevant laws.

Now, the intent of this law is plainly and painfully obvious: it's designed to prevent an unscrupulous bar owner from filling a premium-spirits or single-malt bottle with cheap hooch (do you really think the vodka martini crowd can taste the difference between Grey Goose and Popov?) or a classy wine bottle with cheap rotgut.  But at the same time, this completely obliterates the intent of the growler except as a one-time-use vessel.

Fogleman assured me via a phone call that no Baltimore City enforcement efforts were being expended towards whether growlers are an issue, and that any energies towards that would probably be addressed in future legislation to modify the existing laws. 

Left unsettled for the moment, however, were other side issues: whether a brewpub could legally fill a growler with another bar's label on it (may violate the "relabeling" intent of the existing law), or whether a non-brewpub bar or liquor store can fill a growler (you may recall Max's had growlers available for a very short time--and now they barely admit that did have them), or whether attendees of a beer festival could fill growlers with "leftover" beer at the end of a festival (see the SPBW fests).  Unfortunately, the issue is a little less critical than it used to be; only five widely-scattered establishments offer growlers at all in this immediate region, and only two of them are "in" Baltimore: Pratt Street Ale House and Ellicott Mills.  Ellicott Mills has been careful to take back an old growler and swap it out for a previously refilled growler from a special growler cooler, thus neatly "dodging" the legal issue; it's possible the same tack of swapping new for old may come into play at Pratt Street Ale House for the time being........

Previous blogpost by Midnight Sun's Sam Sessa here. 

Also in today's Washington Post online, once again, great minds think alike.


Caederus said...

As long as we are looking at the fine line of the law "according to Baltimore Liquor Board chairman Steve Fogleman: It is illegal for an alcohol serving establishment in Baltimore City to reuse or refill any alcohol container [his emphasis]." is good for the City, but Ellicott Mills is in Howard county, not Baltimore City. :-)

Alexander D. Mitchell IV said...

Well, yeah, thus the quotes. Basically, I'm ignoring three DuClaws, in part because I don't know what they do at the other locations, though I imagine a big bottle filled with liquid might be most unwelcome in an airport setting.......